Lindsey Graham: I Think Arizona Immigration Law is Unconstitutional

Senate Judiciary Committee members Sen. John Cornyn, D-Texas, left, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., confer on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, during the committee's hearing on border security. AP

Lindsey Graham
AP

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) said Tuesday he thinks Arizona's new immigration law is unconstitutional and that "it doesn't represent the best way forward" when it comes to addressing illegal immigration.

He added, however, that the law reflects "what good people will do" when they are left with no other options.

Speaking at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Graham said Congress eventually needs to tackle immigration reform but that it will be "impossible" to achieve reform until citizens in states like Arizona feel that the borders are secure.

"In this environment there is no hope of it passing," he said.

Arizona's new law, signed by the governor on Friday, would require immigrants to carry documents verifying their immigration status. It would also require police officers to question a person about his or her immigration status if there is "reasonable suspicion" that person may be illegally in the country.

The law has come under fire from activists and politicians across the country, even prompting the city of San Francisco to consider an economic boycott of the state of Arizona. The law is sure to face legal challenges from its opponents who say it encroaches on federal authority to regulate immigration and violates Americans' Constitutional rights.

President Obama has called the law "misguided" and instructed the Justice Department to examine its implications.

During a news conference today, Attorney General Eric Holder gave the strongest indication yet that the administration will try to block Arizona's immigration law from taking effect, CBS News Producer Stephanie Lambidakis reports. Holder said "the law is an unfortunate one that will be subject to potential abuse" and that the Justice Department is "considering a court challenge."

Meanwhile, at today's hearing, Napolitano said the law "signals a frustration with the failure of the Congress" to move on immigration reform.

She also said the Homeland Security Department is concerned the legislation would "distract from and siphon resources" the government has committed to focusing on illegal immigrants who are violent or commit crimes.

"We have concerns at some point we'll be responsible to enforce or use our immigration resources against anyone who would be picked up in Arizona," she said.

Napolitano said that "the numbers at the border have never been better" when it comes to keeping the border secure, adding that efforts to maintain security should be sustained.

"At the same time, comprehensive immigration reform should be in our sights," she said.

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has made the calculated decision to promise to take up immigration reform legislation this year. While Graham has worked to achieve bipartisan immigration reform, he was incensed by Reid's decision because it could effectively put climate change legislation on the back burner for the year -- a higher priority for Graham.

The South Carolina senator ultimately pulled out of the bipartisan talks over climate change because of Reid's commitment to pursue immigration reform first.

Graham said today he thinks Congress can accomplish immigration reform by 2012, "if we're smart."

Sen. John McCain, a Republican from Arizona, similarly told the CBS "Early Show" today that border security must be increased before a bill passes.

Napolitano said today that the drug violence plaguing Mexico has not spilled over the border as much as some may think. She added, however, that some cities, like Phoenix, have been hard hit by violence from the cartels.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters today that he agrees that borders must stay secure, CBS News Capitol Hill Producer Jill Jackson reports.

"We cannot have people coming into the United States of America that are not authorized to do so," he said.

Hoyer reiterated the House's stance that it will take up immigration reform after the Senate does so; otherwise, he said, the House bill would "simply sit there" while the Senate tried to reach an agreement.

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